NASA has reportedly sent human and bull sperms to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to test what happens to the sample when it gets exposed to the zero-gravity environment.
Dubbed ‘Micro-11’, the sperm mission is part of a series of biological experiments that will be conducted by astronauts aboard ISS. The astronauts at the ISS will first thaw the sperm samples and then add chemical mixtures to activate the samples in order to prepare them for union with an egg. The astronauts will record a video of the whole procedure to track the movements of the sperm. They will then mix the samples with preservatives and return them back to Earth for further analysis by the scientists who will check if the steps necessary for fusion occurred and if the samples from space differ from sperm samples activated on the ground.
Fathi Karouia, the lead scientist for NASA’s space biology project, said in an interview with Inverse that it is assumed that the lack of gravity activates sperm mobility. He added that the current flight project is the first to apply proven analytical methods to assess the fertility of human and bovine sperm in spaceflight. Notably, the investigation would help in understanding how fertilization would work in microgravity. It will also help in analyzing the influence of long-duration spaceflight on human reproduction.
This is not the first time that sperm has been sent into space for testing. Previously, a lot of species, including frogs, jellyfish, snails, salamanders, sea urchins, medaka fish, nematode, and other aquatic invertebrate animals, have successfully undergone breeding in space. In fact, several aquatic invertebrates like amphipods, ostracods, gastropods (pond snails), and daphnia (water flea) have also produced their offspring or repeated their life-cycles in space.
NASA is hopeful that the Micro-11 mission will serve as one of the first attempts to understand how differently biology functions in space.